Kickstart and Accessibility in the Museum Sector
Gemma Gleed, an Administration Assistant Kickstarter at MGS, shares an overview of how the Kickstart scheme has helped the Museum sector in its accessibility and how the scheme helped her during the pandemic.
Accessibility in the Museums and Heritage sectors has been a contentious issue for quite some time. Recent prominent discussions on the need to diversify the sector, such as the work of ‘Museum as Muck’– a network founded as a response to the lack of working-class people in museum, gallery and heritage organisations- have highlighted the growing need for active change to make the sector more accessible. Kickstart placements have the potential to be a mutually enriching experience that benefits people getting into the sector by facilitating paid employment opportunities that can lead to gained experience, connection, and support. The institutions themselves benefit from an expanded workforce of enthusiastic new employees whose wages are supplemented, making it affordable to take them on. This has become particularly necessary as a result of how many fewer positions and how much less funding is available as a result of the revenue loss over the course of the pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns.
There is, at least a perceived, expectation in the sector for relevant volunteering experience in order to be eligible to enter the sector- typically in addition to higher education degrees. Anecdotal reports from people working in the sector also indicate that the transition from front-of-house to back-of-house work in museums is uncommon and difficult, as a result of elitist perceptions of the different positions that sees front-of-house work as inferior, rather than as an entry-level stepping stone to working in the sector. All considered, it is not surprising that the sector has a reputation for being intimidating – something exacerbated by personal circumstances that can mean individuals have limited access to a financial safety net that allows unpaid work, or internal connections that could facilitate finding roles.
A great deal of these problems are a direct result of limited funding, especially funding targeted at supporting careers. Positions in the sector are often precarious; many are employed on fixed-term contracts or similarly precarious bases, leading to high instances of re-entry to the sector rather than linear progression through it. Limited funding restricts resources available to support people looking to enter the sector, as well as those trying to progress careers inside of it. Those working in the sector generally express the need for support in-between work through training and networking opportunities; however, these require time and money which are in short supply now more than ever, as a result of the effects of the Pandemic.
The Kickstart Scheme is one of a number of potential solutions to the wider problems facing the Museum sector- particularly the lack of accessible or even available entry level positions open to individuals without a significant financial safety net and limited opportunities for unpaid work. Kickstart is a UK wide scheme aimed at creating jobs for 16-24 year-olds struggling with unemployment by providing employers with supplemental funding.
This leads to the creation of positions that many institutions may wish to create but are lacking the resources to do so themselves. The traineeship structure of the scheme incentivizes creating training and networking opportunities to integrate new entry-level employees, which aids individuals in establishing a basis that will lead to greater success down the line. The creation of these opportunities can also hugely benefit existing employees. However, this program is not without issue- aside from the precarious nature of the program itself, the 6-month contracts that kickstart placements are based on do not necessarily address the issue of precarious employment. The long-term success of a placement therefore often largely comes down to the level of support an individual receives.
Recent discussions of classism and accessibility in the Museum sector have had a great impact on the way that many think about the sector. For many young people trying to enter work- especially in creative fields- supportive networks such as ‘Museum as Muck’ in tandem with schemes such as Kickstart, which directly and effectively counteract the issues restricting institutions from being able to diversify their workforce with the requirement or expectation of unpaid experience, are valuable and validating. Kickstart placements as mutually beneficial arrangements has proved true in my experience and thus far, I have found the sector to be extremely supportive and accepting.
My personal experience with Kickstart has been an incredibly positive one; after graduating during the pandemic with limited work experience resulting directly from the lockdowns (I had been due to start in a role mere days after the March 2020 lockdown came into effect and shut the organization down completely for months), the prospect of trying to enter the Museum or Heritage sectors was particularly daunting. The opportunity to gain both general office work experience and sector specific insight by working as an Administration Assistant at Museums Galleries Scotland has proved invaluable to me and, I hope, my career advancement.